One a bubble team, one a potential bracket buster. This weekend, No. 7 Mercyhurst completes its quartet of road trips to ECAC rinks at Brown’s Meehan Auditorium. The prior three series have produced mixed results–one point at No. 6 St. Lawrence, four points at Yale, and a split last weekend at Colgate. The final foray eastward will match the Lakers against a Brown team that has been riddled with injuries to key personnel all season but may finally be ready to field a full lineup. Thanks to the inception of automatic bids, the Bears can still make a run at a second NCAA tournament appearance. However, Mercyhurst may well be the team on the outside looking in if Brown manages to crash the ECAC Tournament party.
No. 7 Mercyhurst (18-6-2 overall, 7-0-1 CHA)
Top Scorers: Teresa Marchese, Sr., F (12-21-33), Stefanie Bourbeau, So., F (12-7-19), Samantha Shirley, Jr., F (8-11-19)
Top Goaltenders: Desirae Clark, Sr. (12-6-2, 1.32, .935), Laura Hosier, Fr. (6-0-0, 0.67, .957)
Scoring Offense: 3.23 (9th)
Scoring Defense: 1.23 (1st)
Penalty Minutes: 13.4 (19th)
Power Play: 30 of 169, 17.8% (9th)
Penalty Kill: 146 of 158, 92.4% (1st)
Most of the ingredients have been in place for Mercyhurst all season: reliable goaltending, airtight defense, and a controlling style of play that relentlessly tips the rink in favor of the Lakers. Offensive efficiency has been the key variable. In their first 13 games, the Lakers posted four goals or more just three times, posting a 7-4-2 mark. In the last 13 games, Mercyhurst has tallied four or more 10 times en route to an 11-2-0 record but was blanked on 43 attempts in its most recent outing, a 3-0 loss at Colgate. Currently seventh in the USCHO.com Pairwise Rankings with just eight regular-season games remaining and precious few against Pairwise-eligible teams, the Laker offense must deliver.
The good news is Coach Mike Sisti has capable personnel at his disposal. Standout freshman Stephanie Jones will miss this weekend’s series due to Team Canada Under-22 commitments, but senior Teresa Marchese has already logged the fourth 30-plus point season of her career, sophomore Stefanie Bourbeau has equaled the dozen goals she had as a freshman, and Mercyhurst’s recent uptick in offense has been concurrent with the resurgence of junior Samantha Shirley. Mercyhurst’s leading goalscorer last season, Shirley now has eight goals in her last 13 games after getting shut out through her first 13.
Congratulations are also in order to senior goaltender Desirae Clark, who became Mercyhurst’s first-ever Patty Kazmaier finalist earlier this week. Clark leads the nation in goals against average, ranks third in save percentage, and posts a 4.0 grade point average off the ice. However, Sisti is quick to point out that Clark’s nomination is also an acknowledgement of the team in front of her, a balanced unit with an abundance of competent individual parts that have rarely garnered individual national accolades.
Brown (11-10-2 overall, 8-7-1 ECAC)
Top Scorers: Hayley Moore, Fr., F (7-13-20), Jessica Link, Sr., F (9-10-19), Kerry Nugent, Sr., F (8-9-17)
Top Goaltenders: O’Hara Shipe, Fr. (5-4-0, 2.66, 0.898), Stacy Silverman, Fr. (3-6-2, 2.68, 0.905)
Scoring Offense: 2.74 (12th)
Scoring Defense: 2.39 (14th)
Penalty Minutes: 13.9 (12th)
Power Play: 20 of 130, 15.4% (13th)
Penalty Kill: 129 of 144, 89.6% (6th)
This past weekend, Coach Digit Murphy did something she had not done since the first game of the season–she filled out a full lineup card. Brown has been riddled with injuries all season. All five seniors have spent time on the shelf, including All-ECAC performers Jessica Link and Amy McLaughlin. Earlier this week, McLaughlin observed that the injuries to the team’s veterans have been especially detrimental because the team’s younger players could not take their cues from the more experienced hands while adjusting to the Division I game. Now the Bears look to rebound with two rookie netminders, who have each shown flashes of brilliance against top-flight opposition, and 11 upperclasswomen.
The early returns for the full lineup were mixed with a 6-3 loss to No. 3 Dartmouth and a 1-0 squeaker over Vermont. But a healthy Brown team is an intriguing wild card in the postseason picture. After all, this program has always been a tough out in the ECAC playoffs. In 1998, Brown upset No. 1 New Hampshire to capture the ECAC championship. In 2002, the Bears toppled top-seeded Dartmouth in overtime at Thompson Arena to usurp another ECAC crown and bash its way into the NCAA field. And last year, top-seeded Harvard needed two extra sessions to prevent another signature Brown ECAC Tournament upset. So whether Brown manages to keep another team out or forces its way into the NCAA bracket, don’t be surprised if the Bears emerge as a major March factor yet again.